When you were little, you may have wondered where the souls of your deceased pets went, but have you ever wondered where defunct or discarded electronics go? After all, they have to be disposed somewhere. In the Ghanaian capital Accra is the Pearly Gate—or perhaps more appropriately the limbo—of the electronic dead.
Agbogbloshie (altogether now, come on: uh-g-bog-blo-shee), a suburb of the capital, is the world’s largest e-dumpsite. Here, many scrap dealers—mainly economic migrants from the poorest parts of Ghana—are busy toiling their days away dismantling non-figurative tons and tons of gadget remains. When their day at work is over, they return to nearby shantytown called Old Fadama whose sobriquet is—and I kid you not—“Sodom and Gomorrah.”
There are around 80,000 residents in this shantytown of around 3, 000 square feet. In order to retrieve metals and other sellable materials, children and young adults smash and burn these toxic. Operating without any safety equipment, most workers laboring in this horrendous condition die from cancer within their 20s. For many who work on the dumpsite, if they were to get injured or ill, medical care would be beyond their means, translating to s shortened life expectancy.
As for the living condition in “Sodom and Gomorrah,” which is the country’s biggest slum, they are appallingly precarious. Aside from being located adjacently to the world’s biggest e-dumpsite, the community also lacks basic sanitation such as running water, waste collection, and medical care. It is also estimated that around 49% of the inhabitants of this slum do not have any education at all.
Furthermore, due to the infamy brought with extreme impoverished, the district and its inhabitants are highly stigmatized in the Ghanaian society. Perhaps due to this attitude, this poisonous shantytown has long suffered negligence from the society at large. Despite the fact that there is pressure to relocate its inhabitants, an endeavor for which the Ghanaian government has allocated almost $13 million (in USD), this effort has been met with strong resistance from its targets. It is evident that the dwellers view the government’s effort as forced eviction rather than an attempt to improve their living standard.
The case of Old Fadama is not the only instance of extreme poverty and destitution in Accra. The People’s Dialogue on Human Settlement estimates that around 80% of the city’s residents live in slums—though with varying degrees of material inadequacy.
The situation in Agbogbloshie also raises the question of the responsibility that consumers all over the world must take with regard to their electronic consumption. Even though dumping their broken or unfashionable apparatuses in Ghana may provide the residents of Old Fadama with paltry incomes, their health and wellbeing are greatly compromised.
Where then should these electronic devices be disposed? By whom? And, perhaps, the most important questions of all in the cosmos of consumerism—what will be the cost and who will pay for it?